Community Solar FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

September 2017

What is Community Solar? Community Solar, also known as a Solar Garden or Virtual Net Metering, is a power-generating solar array located in one area for the benefit of members with homes or businesses elsewhere.  Community Solar projects give more members access to the benefits of solar energy, removing the expense and complexities of installing your own panels.  For a fraction of the cost, Community Solar projects let individuals invest in smaller units of local renewable power and get a bill credit for the power produced.

Does solar work in the San Juans? Yes!  Winter may be cloudy, but long summer days and the “rain shadow” climate make San Juan County a good fit for generating solar power.  On average, individual solar systems connected to OPALCO’s grid produce over 5,800 kWh annually (that’s enough to power 6 households for the average month).  The larger the array, the more power that can be generated. We can’t generate enough power to meet the demand County-wide, but this is a first step toward building more local distributed power and it reduces our carbon impact.

Where will the array be located? For this first project, we chose a sunny location on Decatur Island, on property that OPALCO owns.  A siting survey in 2016 showed the Decatur Substation property is an ideal location.  It is close to the facilities (substation and transmission lines) necessary to tie the power generated into the OPALCO grid, has a minimal visual impact, room for potential expansion, and phenomenal exposure to the sun. We continue to assess other locations for future Community Solar projects as we grow our local power resources.

Who owns it? The array will be owned by OPALCO, who will take care of the maintenance, upkeep, and administration of the project.

When will OPALCO build it? Construction will begin in 2018. In 2017, the budget includes the planning phase of the project, which includes gathering member feedback. Check out the results from the survey on our website. In August 2017, OPALCO put out a Request for Proposals for construction of the project.

How do members invest and how much does it cost? We are still in the planning stages for OPALCO’s project but, typically, Community Solar arrays are offered to investors in units (measured in watts) that represent a portion of a single panel.  Members can purchase one or more units (typically between 50-60 watts each) – up to a maximum that prevents any one entity from owning a majority of the whole project. OPALCO’s project costs are to be determined, but other Co-op Community Solar projects typically offer one unit for a range of $100 – $300. The total power produced will be calculated monthly, proportionately allocated to each Solar Unit, and applied as an energy credit on your bill either monthly, quarterly or annually.

How much energy will it produce? To be determined. When a contract to construct the array is awarded, the exact size will be established, which will allow us to estimate the energy production.  The array will produce more during the summer months, and less during the winter months.  Models show us that we can produce enough to benefit our member investors and provide a valuable back-up source of local power.

What happens to the energy after it’s generated? The energy produced by the array will be tied to a vanadium flow battery storage system, which will store the energy for when we need it (for immediate consumption, to curtail future peak demands, or potentially for emergency services during major outages).  OPALCO received a grant from the Washington Dept. of Commerce to pay for the battery storage system.

Who can participate? Any active OPALCO member in good standing can participate.  Non-members can also participate by donating Solar Units to an active member – or OPALCO’s Energy Assist Program to help members in need – similar to OPALCO “Gifts of Power” certificates.

Who maintains the solar arrayWho pays for repairs if it breaks down? OPALCO will maintain the array.  If it breaks down, OPALCO will repair it as soon as possible, at no additional cost to member investors.

Are there tax credits, or other incentives? Members are advised to speak with a certified accountant to determine their own tax situation.  The state and federal incentives that are available to individuals who install solar on their own properties are not available through this Community Solar project. We continue to advocate with our elected officials in Olympia.

How will this project be funded? According to the Community Solar Survey results, members favored funding the project by those that are interested in participating.  OPALCO is currently determining the best funding method to make the project successful.

How do I sign up for Community Solar? Contact us!  Call at 376-3500, email us at Solar@OPALCO.com, stop by our offices on Orcas and San Juan islands. We are collecting names and email addresses of members who are interested in purchasing Solar Units and will use that list to keep you updated as the project takes shape.

How can I be involved? How can I get project updates? During this year of planning, we want to hear from you! There are a variety of ways to be involved:

  • continue to send us feedback and ask questions! Email Solar@OPALCO.com, call us at 376-3500, or stop by our Eastsound or Friday Harbor offices;
  • attend our Board of Directors meetings on the third Thursday of each month;
  • subscribe to our email newsletter (www.opalco.com).

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